My Grandmother has always looked the same to me. A very petite, Polish woman with permed hair of varying shades of red or brunette, cigarette dangling from her mouth and a scowl on her face.
Even when she’s smiling.
The only time I saw her age was throughout Mom’s cancer. Grandma didn’t leave Mom’s side from diagnosis to her death two and half months later. She crocheted, cooked delicious soups and salmon cakes (and whatever else Mom asked for) and she prayed, clutching her rosary beads 24/7.
I think she had given up smoking by that time but, boy, did the strain of losing a daughter show on her face, her 95 pound frame, her spirit.
After Mom died, I kept in touch with Grandma by occasionally calling but knew Robert was the one who held a special place in her heart. Robert was living independently at this time and was only a few blocks from her house so I was content knowing Robert called her several times a week and regularly visited her.
Whenever I called Grandma, she’d briefly update me on the extended family drama and her physical ailments and surgeries (I can’t even count how many surgeries she’s had but I would guess it’s several dozen). Then, after only a few minutes, she’d tell me it was good talking to me and say goodbye.
She did tell me she loved me and always took my call so as far as brush-offs go, it was pretty tame. I got used to it but my calls became less frequent over the years. After all, a brush- off is a brush-off no matter how nice it’s done.
Since taking over Robert’s care, I’ve made sure he had Grandma’s number so he could call her when he wanted and when I realized he wasn’t doing that, I would call her and hand the phone to Robert to get his Grandma fix. They loved talking to one another so I at least felt like my granddaughter duties were fulfilled by helping them maintain a relationship.
I hate to admit it but it’s been years since I’ve seen her. She’s now pushing 90 and I’ve had a nagging voice in my head telling me to see her and to take Robert with me. Since I probably shouldn’t put it off any longer (I told you she’s almost 90, right?) I decided on a whim to make the three hour round trip to see her.
Before leaving the house, I called first (of course) and she was happy to hear from me and enthusiastically encouraged me to come down. She mentioned a barbeque she was attending that evening but I assured her Robert and I wouldn’t stay long and wouldn’t interfere with her plans.
Robert lit up when I suggested we visit Grandma. He was completely game and didn’t even fall asleep on the way. We stopped for flowers and he busied himself with his puzzle book and counting “diesel” trucks on the freeway.
Once we pulled into Grandma’s mobile home park, I called her because I got turned around and couldn’t figure out the house numbering system (yes, I’m directionally impaired). I knew we still had hours before she her barbeque.
She answered the phone and told me she had some place to be and that I shouldn’t come down after all.
Um, Grandma – we’re probably fifteen seconds from your house. We’re coming over.
I found her house, unloaded Robert, the walker, the flowers and Sassy (our Toy Pomeranian who used to be Mom’s and who I thought would bring Grandma a bit of joy) and walked Robert to her front yard.
Grandma was outside waiting for us.
Since Robert couldn’t walk up the stairs to her porch (even though he insisted he could), Grandma gingerly walked down to greet us. She gave Robert a big hug, gave Sassy a pat on the head and told me I was the spitting image of my mom.
She looked exactly as I remembered her.
She told Robert this was probably the last time she’d see him and Robert said he thanked God she was still alive. (No wonder they’re close — they’re both morbid).
She then told us she had to go to a neighbor’s house for a barbeque.
We were literally there for less than five minutes.
“Love you. It was good seeing you, thanks for coming down. Next time, you can stay longer.“
I won’t lie and say my feelings weren’t hurt or that I learned a great, powerful, positive life lesson. My feelings were hurt and I wasn’t in the mood to learn some positive lesson. I told Other Brother what happened but he wasn’t surprised, “That’s Grandma.”
So true. That is just how Grandma is.
When I later looked at the picture I took of Robert and Grandma I realized the trip wasn’t for me but for him. I was so flabbergasted during my (less than) five minute visit, I hadn’t really noticed how happy he was. Looking at the picture, I realized that our visit was worth the afternoon drive.
My feelings are still hurt (and, no, there’s no lesson!) but at least we saw her and those (less than) five minutes made Robert’s day.
Thankfully, I can finally quiet that nagging voice in my head – time to give it the brush-off!